Pests to Watch For
Regularly check over your plants for signs of insect infestation and damage. In particular, watch out for these common pests:
- Cucumber beetles: Bright orange to yellowish-green beetles with black markings (either stripes or spots). These beetles chew through leaves and spread several zucchini diseases.
- Squash bugs: These large, brownish grey insects are easy to spot. With sharp, pointed mouthparts, they pierce plants yo suck out nutrients, causing leaves to turn yellow and wilt.
- Aphids: Tiny, soft bodied bugs that range in color from pale green to almost red. They are found clinging to stems and the undersides of leaves. They leave behind a sticky black residue and cause leaves to turn yellow and sickly.
- Cutworms: These small, greyish caterpillars are aptly named. They snip through young seedlings like tiny lumberjacks, leaving the fallen plant to shrivel and die.
- Vine borers: Grub-like moth larvae burrow into the stems of plants, and cause leaves to suddenly wilt and die. Watch for moth eggs on the stems of your plants, near the base, to prevent infestation.
If you use pesticide sprays, take precautions to avoid injuring beneficial insects. Do not spray flowers, and apply pesticides in the early morning or late evening when beneficials are less active.
Traps: Sticky traps work well to control aphids and other small insects. Make your own by smearing petroleum jelly on yellow cardstock (aphids are attracted to yellow) and leaving the cards near infested plants. Pitfall traps are effective against larger insects like squash bugs.
Insecticidal soap: This insecticide is safe to use around kids and pets and is fine for organic gardening. It works well against aphids and other crawling insects. Since it kills only on contact, it is safer for beneficial insects than other pesticides.
Neem oil: Made from the seeds of the neem tree, neem oil is a natural insecticide, miticide, and antifungal treatment. It’s also organic-friendly and completely biodegradable.
Diatomaceous earth: Diatoms are microscopic sea creatures with skeletons made of silica. These tiny structures are harmless to humans and animals, but to insects, they act like shards of glass, slicing through insects’ hard shells. This causes them to dry out and die. Diatomaceous earth is as dangerous for beneficial insects as it is for pests; apply carefully.
Predator insects: While some companies claim to sell insects that control garden pests, introducing new species to the wild isn’t a good idea. Instead, grow plants that predators like lacewings and ladybugs find irresistible, like fennel, dill, and mint.